Monday, October 20, 2008

Judge Rules in King Family Feud

A judge has ordered Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter to resume documenting her mother's personal papers, which are at the center of a family feud among the civil rights icon's surviving children.

Bernice King and brother Martin Luther King III again faced off in court Friday against another brother, Dexter King.

Dexter, CEO of King Inc., wants a judge to order Bernice, the administrator of her mother's estate, to turn over personal papers, including intimate letters between Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.

The documents were part of a $1.4 million book deal with Penguin Group for a memoir about the civil rights matriarch, but that deal fell though earlier this month after the family missed a deadline from the New York-based publisher to turn the documents over. It is unclear now whether the documents can or will be used for any future such deals.

"Penguin declared that King, Inc. was in default," said attorney Craig Frankel, who does not represent the organization but is Dexter King's personal lawyer. "For the time being, (King, Inc.) is unable to comply with the terms of the contract."

Bernice and Martin Luther King III both say that the book goes against their mother's wishes.

The siblings and their attorneys sat down for more than four hours Friday after cooperation between them had stalled on a previous court order for Bernice King to begin producing her mother's personal items.

The issue of whether Coretta Scott King's papers are the property of her husband's estate, which Dexter King controls, remains undecided for now, but Frankel said he was pleased with Friday's progress and that the process of cataloguing hundreds of boxes of Coretta Scott King's property — being managed by a court-appointed "special master" — will resume as early as Monday.

The cataloguing is necessary before a judge can decide whether the documents should be turned over.

Coretta Scott King died in January 2006 of complications from ovarian cancer after suffering a stroke a few months earlier. Her estate was being managed by the Kings' eldest child, Yolanda, but she died suddenly last year after suffering a heart attack.

Relations among the remaining King siblings have become increasingly strained and the public feud came to a head this summer with the filing of three lawsuits. On Friday, media, clergy, lawyers and supporters — including the Rev. Al Sharpton — packed the hearing.

Speaking after the hearing as he headed to the airport to catch a flight back to California, Dexter King said his fight with his siblings boils down to a "power grab" by his sister, and maintained that Coretta Scott King did want her memoir published by the Rev. Barbara Reynolds.